Sunday, May 29, 2005

Review - Millions

Millions is Danny Boyle’s well-intentioned but hopelessly confused attempt at making a film the whole family can enjoy. After a couple of disappointing Hollywood efforts, Boyle seemed on firmer ground with the flawed but enjoyable zombie film 28 Days Later, so it’s a bit of a gamble to turn away from the kind of film he is most adept at and make a movie for younger audiences. His fable about the corrupting power of money has much to enjoy, but it falls into the trap of trying to appeal to both older and younger members of the audience, and satisfying neither.

Millions centres on two young boys, seven year-old Damian (Alex Etel) and his older brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon). They live with their father, played by the reliable James Nesbitt, and when the film opens they are in the process of moving house, hoping to start a new life after the death of their mother. They move to a newly built housing estate on the outskirts of Manchester, but Damian seems happier in his self-built fort near the railway tracks where his imagination conjures up the numerous Saints he has been obsessively studying (he responds to their appearance with nerdish delight: “St Francis of Assisi, 1181 to 1226!”).

Damian is in his fort one day, chatting to St Claire, when he is interrupted by a sports bag falling out of the sky and landing right on top of him. It’s filled with money, over £200,000, and Damian thinks it’s a gift from God. He immediately decides that the only thing to do is to use the money to help the poor, but his more financially-minded brother thinks they should invest it in property, or at least buy loads of cool stuff with it. However, they’ll have to hurry up because in less than two weeks Great Britain will be converting to the Euro (perhaps this fantasy is the hardest to swallow), and all their money will be worthless.

Just as they boys are having fun spending, the real reason for the money’s appearance emerges. It was part of a trainload of Sterling which was set to be destroyed and was stolen in a daring robbery. The bags of money were thrown out of the moving train to be collected by the waiting crooks, but one member of the gang (Christopher Fulford) missed his collection and now he’s after the kids to regain his stolen loot.

There’s an awful lot of incident packed into Frank Cottrell Boyce’s screenplay, turning what should be a light, fast-paced kids’ tale into a rather stodgy affair, over-burdened with plot and suffering from an inconsistent tone which makes it hard to fully engage with the story. Boyle’s stylised direction suits the story early on, with some lovely fantasy sequences depicting the boys’ boundless imagination. The cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle is also wonderful, making this one of the most visually rich British features in years. Above all, the film benefits from the quality of the two lead actors, Etel and McGibbon, who both give natural, unaffected performances. James Nesbitt is also fine as their father, and Pearce Quigley has a funny role as a local community officer, but Daisy Donovan is embarrassingly out of her depth in a major role and I could have definitely done without Leslie Phillips’ tiresome and unnecessary cameo.

Unfortunately, the spirited fun of the first half is soon forgotten as Boyle and Boyce get bogged down in the mechanics of the plot, and logic goes out of the window on a number of occasions (e.g. the criminal‘s near-omnipotence, the big currency exchanging sequence). Boyle’s attempt to maintain the whimsical tone soon starts to flag, and the film rushes with indecent haste towards the frankly awful climax, an ending which leaves many of the plot strands hanging.

It’s hard to know exactly what audience will appreciate Millions, a film at once too whimsical and cute for older viewers while probably proving too elaborate and complex for youngsters. The film’s release strategy does it no favours either, with the Christmas setting and Capra-esque tone sitting uneasily in a film released at the end of May.

Millions strongly recalls one of Boyle’s previous misfires, A Life Less Ordinary. Like that film, it tries to have it both ways, awkwardly and unsuccessfully trying to mix fantasy and reality. Boyle doesn’t seem to have learned his lessons from that film, and Millions is yet another frustrating disappointment from a director who is yet to reach his full potential.